It is often hard for me to believe that I have been working at the same organization for lucky 13 years and counting. Sometimes it seems longer. Sometimes it seems shorter. Sometimes, the days meld into one another and I am counting down until Friday and wishing my days away and then *poof* my days are gone—and they keep on going and then are gone. Always, without a doubt, time baffles me as the ultimate enigma of long stretches and short stretches and how so much changes and yet nothing really changes at all. The majority of my time was working in a chemotherapy unit where I saw patients and their loved ones at their worst and also at their best and in a time warp of life and death of trying to savor everything in between. Many people would say: “I do not know how you do your job. I could not do your job. It must be so sad.” But, I loved it. Yes, I love it.
I love the fierce and fire and the strength and strong that all revolve around ‘the fight for the gift of life’ and then the final acceptance and peace when the fire has been extinguished into the unknown that we can never understand, but try to accept and surrender peacefully to for when it is time to go then it is time to go.
Making the switch to lessen in-person contact with patients was hard for me, but I was determined to learn about the bad and the ugly of health insurances and finances to educate and empower patients to navigate their own health insurances to make their very own informed and personal healthcare decisions. It was a pain in the ass and there was days I felt like I would never get it and never be in a position to help patients out, but I kept reminding myself of two things ‘this was for a greater good’ and ‘if I am all confused with our messed up healthcare system, then can you imagine how someone so sick feels trying to navigate all this crap’? So, I kept on. I eventually ended up in a role where I still have in-person contact, but it is at the VERY beginning of their health journey. I see significantly less patients than when I worked in chemotherapy, but I’ve already experienced patients at their worst with breaking down crying in front of me and then cleaning themselves up as if nothing happened as they finish their appointment with me and then brace themselves for their very first appointment. The majority of the time, I am on the phone with patients. Somewhat sad to say, I’ve now become so accustomed to talking more so with patients on the phone than in-person that I am brought back in time to my chemotherapy working days only when an established patient comes to me. And, this is rare, few, and far in between.
Well, that’s exactly what happened a couple weeks ago. An established Radiation Oncology patient who had undergone at least two or more treatments came into my office with her therapy dog and her husband. She was probably only a couple years older than me. Her face was gaunt. Her eyes were wide. I could immediately tell that her coming to me had a deeper and underlying message than the message she was about to share with me. She shared with me that her radiation treatment was aggressive and atypical, and so it was denied by her health insurance and that it was in the appeals process. She began to shoot off a string of questions to me: “So what happens now? What if the appeal does not go through? What happens with my current radiation treatment? Will I have to self-pay? How much will it cost?”
I paused. “I do not know the answer to your questions. I do not know what is going to happen. No one really ever knows or can predict the future or what is going to happen. I just know that it is in appeals and it is being worked on and we will go from there.”
She would not accept what I was telling her. I do not know what took over me next, but I said this: “It is easy for me to say to you to trust the process, and it is so very hard to do. I just know that you and we all have a plate. Some days more than others, it seems like the plate is overflowing and spilling over the edges. Most days, we wish for dull, boring, scarce, and sparse, but that’s not how life works. There is so much already on your plate that you have to take small bites and take it little by little as it comes and not overload it with even more. Do not add or overload your plate with more than you can pick and chew from and pick up and handle. Nothing more and nothing less. One day at a time. One step at a time. One thing at a time.”
I did not even know where these words that came out from my mouth actually came from. I think I looked as surprised and speechless as her. Both of us did not even know what to say, so we said little and our actions spoke with a small nod of her determined chin and a reluctant acceptance that she would have to wait to see what happens. The waiting, the not knowing, the unknown, the out of her and all of our control wraps in a tight and suffocating ball of fear. We are left with holding on as hard as can to hope, faith, and a trust in a process that has no shortcuts and that we endure and go through with intentions to come out better and stronger. We all have a plate that, I believe, gets bigger and we make more complicated as we age with our thoughts, worries, anxieties, responsibilities, and tendencies. We overload and bite off more than we can chew. So, why do we do this? Why can’t we trust the process? Why does our mind immediately spiral out of control to the worst case scenario?
Each of us has our own plates. Some even have a whole set of China. I believe that most of our plates are overflowing and spilling off the edges. Some of us continue to bite off more than we can possibly chew. Some of us actually put even more on our plates by making it more complicated than it needs to be. Is your plate always overflowing? How big is your plate? Do our plates get bigger as we get older, because of more responsibility and because we become more aware of what is required of us and the risks involved? What does your plate look like now? Is it cracked and beyond repair? Is it pretty and flowery with scalloped edges and gold trim? Is there a way to cut back on all that is on our plates? How is your plate looking like now and did you create this plate and all on it or did it just heap on to you and keep on heaping until you wondered whose plate it really belonged to?
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,